Computers in the classroom

Our elementary school, with 410 children, has been radically changed by the arrival of two new "Pets." These aren't soft, furry animals, but Personal Electronic Transactor computers, better known as "Teacher's Pet." They represent one type of microcomputers that are beginning to revolutionize education in the United States and other countries.

People react to revolutions in different ways. The students seem to be charging forward, using Pet in their spare time during or after school, forming computer clubs, and, if given the choice, even favoring computers over TV! While many of the teachers recognize the educational value of computers, they have yet to sign up for the in-service training course on computer use.

The most cautious approach is held by many parents who wonder if computers will delay students' computation skills. One father remarked, "I don't want my children using computers until junior high school when they have a good foundation in math."

A mother noted, "Machines should not be replacing teachers in the classroom." Add to this the unique computer language, and the fer of the unknown escalates.

Yet, just how quickly computers are added to our schools sometimes depends on the parents who finance them. They must be convinced of the computer's contribution before providing the hundreds of dollars needed to purchase a computer and tapes. Some teachers can envision two or three computers in each classroom.

The New York Times recently quoted a pioneer in computer techniques, Prof. Seymour Papert, as saying, "Thos school distgricts that are really dedicated to quality education will realize that spending a few hundred dollars on a computer is highly cost-effective."

In some firsthand demonstrations and observations, I was shown that computers are part of "quality education." During National Education Week, when schools are open to parents, I visited our son's fourth grade classroom. There I had a brief introduction to the popular Pet.

My electronic typewriter seems primitive compared with this sophisticated-looking machine. It resembles a large typewriter with letters, numbers, words, and symbols on the keys. A TV-type screen attached to the top is where the "dialogue" takes place between student and computer. The teacher pressed a key and instantly a two-column addition problem flashed on the screen, 46 plus 23. A student stepped in to show this novice how to type the answer and press "return" for the next problem.

This Pet computer could illustrate an addition problem from a one-by-two to a nine-by-nine column and row, or any combination thereof. Therefore, drill is programmed to match ability levels from first grade up. And that is the beauty of it! Students can work on their own level, progress at their own rate, and learn in months what takes years with conventional methods, reports indicate.

Of course arithmethic is just a taste.

During a school board meeting a faculty member demonstrated programs that teach spelling, speed reading, analyzing, concentrating, and estimating. The fun of using the computer is obvious in this visually oriented, electronic age. The games are already numerous. The potential is limitless. Students at the high school have shared programs designed with imaginatin and understanding.

Their application is clearly educational, which reassures this parent. Teachers won't be replaced, but they gain an added resource. Children won't be skipping the basics, but learning and thinking at a faster pace. As teachers gain "computer literacy," they'll lose a lot of routine work. No wonder it's called Teacher's pet.

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